Made for the Trade: Native American Objects in the Winterthur Collection will be on View March 1 at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

  • WINTERTHUR, Delaware
  • /
  • February 15, 2011

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Box, unknown Mi’kmaq artist. Nova Scotia, Canada; late 1800s. Birchbark, dyed spruce root, dyed porcupine quills. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

Native American decorative arts and craft works—acquired by H. F. du Pont and a long-overlooked part of the Winterthur collection—are highlighted in this small but powerful collection. While some of the works presented were crafted for Native American use, this unique exhibition concentrates on items made by Native Americans specifically for trade with early explorers, 18th-century colonists, and 19th- and 20th-century “tourists.” Made for the Trade examines these objects’ evolution over time, from tourist souvenir to collected artwork, and presents them as a celebration of American diversity and design.

Native Americans sold bowls, baskets, and pottery to European colonists as early as the 1500s. By the 1800s, non-native peoples became very interested in the objects as exotic souvenirs of the supposed “disappearing Indian.” By the 1900s, the items were considered decorative arts objects acquired and displayed by collectors.

“H. F. du Pont, helping set the 1920s Americana style trend, used Native-made items in many of his rooms,” says Laura Johnson, curator of the exhibition. In an attempt to collect evidence of an indigenous but diminishing way of life, museum professionals, ethnographers, and private collectors bought and stored as many Native-made pieces as they could.

(Top view) Box, unknown Mi’kmaq artist. Nova Scotia, Canada; late 1800s. Birchbark, dyed spruce root, dyed porcupine quills. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

In the process, some pieces lost their cultural context, making it easier to see them purely as decorative objects. This exhibition contextualizes these objects and highlights craftsmanship characteristics specific to various tribes, such as the Pequot, Passamaquoddy, Paugussett, and Mi’kmaq.

With these everyday objects that are masterpieces of beauty and function, Made for the Trade invites visitors to discover a new kind of American decorative arts at Winterthur.


Winterthur—known worldwide for its preeminent collection of American decorative arts, naturalistic gardens, and research library for the study of American art and material culture—offers a variety of tours, exhibitions, programs, and activities throughout the year. General admission includes a tour of some of the most notable spaces in the 175-room house, as well as access to the Winterthur Garden and Galleries, special exhibitions, a narrated tram tour (weather permitting), the Campbell Collection of Soup Tureens, and the Enchanted Woods children’s garden. $18 adults; $16 for students and seniors; $5 for ages 2–11. Tickets are valid for two consecutive days.

Picnic basket, Tomah Joseph, Passamaquoddy, Maine; 1900–1930. Birchbark, cedar, alder, nails. Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont.

Museum hours are 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday–Sunday. Winterthur, located on Route 52, six miles northwest of Wilmington, Delaware, and five miles south of U.S. Route 1, is closed Mondays (except during Yuletide), Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. Winterthur is committed to accessible programming for all. For information, including special services, call 800.448.3883, 302.888.4600, or TTY 302.888.4907, or visit


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